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Elsa Sass peony

Voices of Alaska:

General Aviation helps Alaska’s Farms, Businesses Take Off

WASILLA, ALASKA, Jan. 2015- Alaska is known for many things, the vast array of wildlife, breathtaking vistas, hunting, fishing and other recreational activities. But many people may not think of the peony flower when they think of Alaska. The truth is that the peony is a highly sought after commercial flower with a very limited growing season. Peony flowers require highly specific environmental conditions and Alaska is the only region in the world that is currently producing peonies between the months of July and September, a time when many of these flowers are sought for weddings. This has given Alaska a unique advantage and the industry is expanding on a daily basis.

 My company, Alaska Peony Distributors, LLC provides post-harvest services including processing, marketing, sales, transportation and storage services to the growing peony industry here in Alaska. We have a distribution network that supports 25 plus farms and covers a service area of over 7300 square miles. These farms are spread far apart and they often have little to no roadway access. In fact, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, roughly 82% of Alaska’s communities are inaccessible by road. The highway system in Alaska is also limited, and the added hurdles of summer tourist traffic and weather can make our trips an all day endeavor.

For our work, a trip that could take 10 hours by truck can be accomplished in under an hour with the use of air transportation. Fast response times are vital in this industry. When a farm has reached cooler capacity for its current harvest, we can send a twin-engine Piper Navajo or any other suitable airplane to immediately transport the flowers to our refrigerated processing facility near Wasilla Airport. This process allows the farming, shipping and storage process to operate at maximum efficiency during the growing season. 

General aviation gives us the potential to expand peony farming to far flung locations like Bethel, Dillingham, Kodiak, Copper River Valley or any other Alaskan location with a suitable microclimate for growing peonies.

Across Alaska, the story is the same — general aviation helps companies to reach far-off markets, transport goods, supplies and staff and make multiple stops in one day. The use of general aviation is also critical for the delivery of healthcare services in our state. For example, Blood Bank of Alaska relies heavily on general aviation aircraft to transport blood to remote communities across Alaska, and these aircraft are also used for disaster relief and law enforcement.

Here in Alaska, luckily, people tend to realize the incredible value of general aviation to the state. Unfortunately, there are many that still don’t appreciate the numerous benefits that this form of transportation can provide, particularly outside of our vast state. The President’s budget proposal from earlier this year includes a $100 per flight fee that would unfortunately negatively impact the numerous businesses, farms and organizations that rely on general aviation for their work.

Despite this, I am pleased to see that our local elected officials in Alaska have made the effort to recognize the benefits of general aviation and local airports. Recently, Governor Sean Parnell declared September “General Aviation Appreciation Month.” In addition, Mayor Jon Eberhart of Fairbanks and Mayor Dan Sullivan of Anchorage both declared September “General Aviation Appreciation Month.” It is also encouraging to see that Senator Lisa Murkowski and Representative Don Young are part of the General Aviation Caucus.

These are excellent steps forward, I hope we can build on them and continue to spread awareness about this valuable form of transportation.

Mike Williams is the managing partner of Alaska Peony Distributors, LLC and a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.

A Fresh Face in Flowers

Alaska Now Holds World Supply of Prime Summer Peonies

WASILLA, ALASKA, May, 2013 — The new face of Alaskan agriculture is being unveiled. The University of Alaska discovered that the most demanded bridal flower in the United States, the peony, is a prime crop for Alaska.   Historically the availability of peonies was limited to a strict spring season schedule; a schedule that Alaska Peonies are turning on its head, to the delight of florists, designers, and brides-to-be.

Alaskan agriculture has had a hard-hitting ride of ups and downs. This is a land known to the world for its hunting, fishing, and spectacular mountains. Few, though, think of Alaska as an agricultural producer. In 1935 the Federal Government transported hundreds of displaced Dust Bowl colonists to Alaska in an attempt to create a farming community in the wild frontier. Farms sprang up in new land, but 78 years later only a handful of those farms remain. In more recent decades the government attempted to create both an Alaskan dairy and barley industry, which ended in unfortunate failures.

Over the years there has been success with Alaskan vegetables, such as potatoes, and colossal record setting, cabbages and turnips. The land of the Midnight Sun has produced unmatched produce of unheard sizes. However, these successes have been predominately on a local scale, with very little demand from outside the State.

Now, during the months of July, August, and September, Alaska has the world’s ONLY supply of fresh blooming peonies

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Now, during the months of July, August, and September, Alaska has the world’s ONLY supply of fresh blooming peonies.  Couple that with the effect of the 20+ hours of sun during those months, and you create some of the largest peonies the world has ever seen. This unique opportunity has resulted in over 19 peony farms being created in Alaska in the last five years.

This year Alaskan peonies have reached a capacity to start making a significant impact on the world’s floral market. It is now to be seen if this budding agricultural industry will survive its infancy or go the way of so many attempts before it. “There is a world-wide demand for these flowers,” said Meghan Williams, general manager of Alaska Peony Distributors, LLC. “The trick is letting the world know that demand can now be filled.”

Alaska Peony Distributors, LLC is a wholesale commercial peony pack house that has been created to support the needs of the expanding peony industry in Alaska. “Our mission is to provide the best post-harvest service possible to the peony farmers. In turn we offer the highest quality peony stems that Alaska can produce to the international cut flower market,” said Ms. Williams.

“The problem that Alaskan agriculture has had in the past,” continued Ms. Williams, “is that, while Alaskans are exceptional when it comes to getting hard work done, the ball often gets dropped when it comes to the selling stage. This time we’re not going to let that happen. We have an exceptional product growing here, there is no reason it should not be a worldwide success. Our company was established to let these exceptional farmers concentrate on farming. We then do all of the marketing, sales, quality control, and transportation. ”

“The fact that Anchorage International Airport is the 2nd largest cargo hub in the US is a huge benefit for us,” adds Ms. Williams, ” Our peonies can be shipped to 90% of the developed world in less than 9 ½ hours. We are the connection between farms and consumers for this new industry and this incredible flower, and we take that responsibility seriously.”

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Blooms Bust out of Buttonholed Boundaries

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Felix Supreme peony

Alaska’s Solution to the Peony Dilemma

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA, June, 2013 —Peonies, the most requested wedding flowers in the United States, and yet a bloom with one of the smallest windows of availability. A bride wants peonies for a fall wedding? Can’t happen!   She has to change her dates.  Peonies are fine for spring or—for the extra expense—they can be imported from New Zealand or Chile in the winter. But summer/fall season when over 30% of weddings occur? Unheard of…until now.

Alaska Peonies are turning this expectation on its head, to the delight of florists, designers, and brides-to-be. After an extensive decade long study, University of Alaska discovered that Alaska’s best growing cash crop is the peony. Now, during the months of July, August, and September, Alaska has the world’s ONLY supply of fresh blooming peonies. Couple that with the effect of the 20+ hours of sun Alaska gets during these months, and you get some of the largest peonies the world has ever seen. Some experts predict the rapidly expanding Alaska peony industry is on track to exceed 1 million stems by 2015.

Our peonies can be shipped to 90% of the developed world in less than 9 ½ hours

This is a classic flower with hundreds of varieties in stunning colors, which has been cultivated for centuries. Unlike most blooms in the floral industry, peonies cannot be grown in green-houses or near the equator.  The flowers need temperate micro-climates and a winter hibernation period to bloom successfully….factors that limit their viability and range in many regions, but make them a perfect fit for Alaska’s unique growing conditions. 

“The fact that Anchorage International Airport is the 2nd largest cargo hub in the US is also a huge benefit for us,” said Meghan Williams, general manager for Alaska Peony Distributors, LLC. “Our peonies can be shipped to 90% of the developed world in less than 9 ½ hours. Our company is a pack house/wholesaler for over a dozen peony farms, functioning as the connection between the farms and the consumers for this new industry and this incredible flower.”

This availability also creates the opportunity to start using peonies in a whole new style. Peonies have always been known for their soft undertone elegance and class in spring weddings. Now the fall trend of lush, rich hues can be reflected by vibrant raspberry, garnet, and coral peonies. “They add a visual depth and a really dramatic element to a bouquet,” said recent bride Jennifer Kapla.

“Our biggest challenge now,” said Rachel Christy of Alaska Blooms Peony Farm, LLC, “is trying to educate the floral and event industry to stop advising their brides to change their wedding dates!”